Monday, July 1, 2013

Weekend in Suzhou - part I

Suzhou is a very popular tourist destination just outside Shanghai.  We took the high-speed train, and the ride was only 30 minutes.  Suzhou is known for it's canals, bridges and beautiful gardens.  It's a water town and called the "Venice of China".  
     Maneuvering the train station in Shanghai was probably the most challenging part of our trip.  Thank goodness Chris bought our tickets ahead of time.  Like everywhere else, the station is very, very hot & crowded.  There was no one in our waiting area to answer any questions or give any directions. I saw one man at a kiosk, and I tried to ask him for help but he was only selling lottery tickets.  We tried to study the sign boards (very confusing) and tried to listen to the loud speaker (in Chinese, and very muffled and tinny).
     We did spy a women holding a ticket with the same train # as us, so we resolved to follow her.  That    was the answer.  Phew.
     We stayed at the Marriott, and took advantage of the concierge to arrange an English-speaking tour and train tickets home the next day.  I mistakenly thought of Suzhou as only a scenic and historic destination, but Suzhou also has a lot of manufacturing and a "hi-tech" business center.

Shanghai station

We took a taxi to Lingering Gardens.  From the outside, it looks like nothing, a stone wall and small entry way.   But inside, it just goes on and on.  There is a large wooden lacquer map in the first room, in-laid with stone and mother-or-pearl.  It shows all the parts of the garden.  Lingering Gardens is known for it's ancient rock gardens, as well as the design the ponds and bridges.  In the center of the pond, a woman in traditional dress played a Chinese instrument and sang.  It was surprising to see, but the music really added to the beauty of the experience. Through-out the gardens, we would see different performers - all playing traditional instruments.

 There are several moon gates in the gardens.   This is very traditional in wealthy homes and palaces.  The idea is to pass through a moon gate, is to walk through into joy and happiness.  Lots of couples walk-through a moon gate during a wedding ceremony.

Long ago, the wealthy felt it was important to surround themselves with elements of nature to maintain balance and harmony.  Although they had to live in the city, they wanted idealized scenes of nature inside their palace walls.  So they designed gardens with rocks to emulate mountains & peaks, and cultivated bonsai to mimic great trees.  They could walk on winding pathways from scene-to-scene, and rest in pagodas or small houses along the way.  

Auspicious Cloud Capped Peak
grape vine trellis
As in many parks and gardens in China, I am always impressed by the artistic stone pathways.  I keep thinking of a craftsman on his knees for years to produce works of art.

tea house
clean girls
After a long day, we had a great dinner and hot showers.  Ready for the next day's adventure.

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